For Many Women, The Nearest Abortion Provider Is Hundreds Of Miles Away
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
While abortion is legal in the United States, for some, it is not very accessible. A new study finds that many women face legal barriers and long distances to get the procedure. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: There's just one clinic providing abortions in all of South Dakota - in Sioux Falls. Kelsey lives there. We're not using her last name to protect her privacy. But because of South Dakota's mandatory waiting period law, she would have had to meet with a doctor, wait 72 hours and then go back. Kelsey, a nurse, had just gotten a new job at the time.
KELSEY: So I knew that three days was just really not going to work because then I'd to take two days off of work for a job that I just started not too long ago.
MCCAMMON: When South Dakota's Republican governor, Dennis Daugaard, signed the mandatory waiting period into law in 2011, he said he hoped it would reduce abortions by encouraging women to consider alternatives and, quote, "make good choices." Kelsey says when she found out she was pregnant a couple of years ago, she was going through a rough time and knew she wasn't ready to be a parent.
KELSEY: So then I thought, OK, well, where's my next choice? Sioux City couldn't get me. That's in Iowa - couldn't get me in until a couple of weeks later.
MCCAMMON: She called a clinic in Lincoln, Neb., more than 200 miles away. They couldn't get her in right away either. Kelsey was just a few weeks along, and it was important to her to end the pregnancy early.
KELSEY: Everybody has their own feelings about what is appropriate for them to have an abortion there - how far they want to wait and things like that. So I just knew I just wanted to do it.
MCCAMMON: She finally found an appointment in Minneapolis, a four-hour drive away on a day she was already scheduled to be off. She and her boyfriend, now fiance, drove up after work the night before and paid for a hotel room.
Many women have no choice but to travel, some more than 300 miles each way according to the new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization that supports abortion rights. The report says new restrictions passed by Republican legislatures have led to clinics closing in a few states, forcing women to drive farther. Lead author Jonathan Bearak is a senior research scientist at Guttmacher.
JONATHAN BEARAK: I think that there's an unfortunate extent to which access to abortion is a bit contingent on your ZIP code.
MCCAMMON: On average, women travel 11 miles one way for an abortion. But Bearak says the distances are often much longer in rural areas. He says social stigma is a factor.
BEARAK: Not just the patients but the doctors are affected by stigma. And that blocks them from provisioning the care.
MCCAMMON: It's an issue for doctors in South Dakota. For 25 years, Planned Parenthood has been flying doctors from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls and back twice each week to consult with patients and later perform abortions. Dr. Carol Ball has been coming here for a decade.
CAROL BALL: I've been told by a supportive physician here that basically providing abortions for a South Dakota physician in Sioux Falls would be, quote, unquote, "career suicide."
MCCAMMON: Ball says many of her patients travel hundreds of miles to see her, too. That often means taking time off work and finding childcare.
BALL: They have to do that twice, especially for one that takes at least a day, for many of our women, not just a few hours.
MCCAMMON: The Guttmacher report recommends expanding access to abortion through things like telemedicine and rolling back restrictive laws. The study appears in The Lancet Public Health Journal. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Sioux Falls, S.D.
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